A Young Man’s Country
There are basically two kinds of old-school country rock: the kind that features pedal steel guitar weighted equally with lead electric, and the kind with just electric guitar. Daniel Donato’s self-described “21st-century cosmic country” version falls into the latter camp.
The 25-year-old Nashville guitar slinger fully deserves strong kudos for keeping the country rock spirit alive. He’s a new Telecaster master with a rare combination of tone, chops, voice and songwriting that puts him in a league with Jerry Garcia, Waylon Jennings and Toy Caldwell.
But his journey into musicianship was anything but predictable. The initial inspiration came from Guns N’ Roses (specifically, the song “Paradise City”). After developing an appreciation for country, he wheedled his way into playing with the house band at honky-tonk Robert’s Western World, while still a junior in high school. Later a schoolteacher gifted him more than 200 Grateful Dead bootlegs, effectively bringing his possibly inherited jam-band tendencies (Donato’s mom followed the Dead on tour while pregnant with him) to the fore.
“A Young Man’s Country” is Donato’s full-length debut, and represents a branching-out from instrumentalist to singer-songwriter. It’s also the third release on Robben Ford’s new 13J record label, established to showcase both legendary and up-and-coming guitarists. Ford co-produced with Donato, whose backup for the album includes Nashville session drummer extraordinaire Will Johnston.
One of the neat things about this set is that one minute Donato’s playing some primo twang à la Luther Perkins, and the next he’s soaring off into the ether like it’s Winterland 1974.
While the take here on “Fire on the Mountain” is excellent, it’s another of the album’s cover songs that’s best out of the three: “I Ain’t Living Long Like This,” a Rodney Crowell tune previously covered by Gary Stewart, Emmylou Harris and Jennings (who earned his 11th No. 1 song off it in 1980). It positively chugs.
Among “Young Man’s” eight original compositions, highlights include the rollicking “Always Been a Lover” (the wah-wah’ed Telecaster is out of this world, and the keyboard fills and percussion are subtle and sublime, respectively); the slow-shuffling “Sweet Tasting Tennessee” (with its bell-chiming lead that manages to sneak in a mandolin-like run or two); and “Forgotten Days” (which arguably features some of the best chicken-picking since Danny Gatton).
2. Always Been A Lover
3. Meet Me In Dallas
4. Fire On The Mountain
5. Luck Of The Draw
6. Broke Down
7. Angel From Montgomery
8. Sweet Tasting Tennessee
9. Diamond In The Rough
10. Forgotten Days
11. I Ain’t Living Long Like This
Total time: 64:00